Deepcut inquest can hear evidence alleging wider bullying, coroner rules

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The inquest of a young soldier who died at the notorious Deepcut army barracks can hear evidence alleging one of his former instructors bullied other recruits, a coroner has ruled.

The new hearing into the shooting of Private Sean Benton, 20, in 1995 will be allowed to examine the wider actions of Sergeant Andrew Gavaghan at the Surrey base, Judge Peter Rook QC said.

The family of Pte Benton allege that Sgt Gavaghan, now retired, was among those who bullied and harassed the 20-year-old before his death.

In a ruling at a pre-inquest hearing at Woking Coroner’s Court on Wednesday, Judge Rook said evidence of the ex-NCO’s wider behaviour “is evidence capable of being called on the important issue of whether Sgt Gavaghan did harass, bully or abuse Pte Benton, provided the evidence is of significant probative value”.

In a statement released after the hearing, Tracy Lewis, Pte Benton’s sister, said: “It won’t be easy to listen to people give evidence about bullying and abuse – but it’s so important to us to learn the truth about the toxic environment we fear Sean lived in. It’s what our mum fought for 20 years for.

“We’re grateful that the coroner has decided to allow a wider range of allegations to be heard than just those affecting Sean directly, and are hopeful we will find answers to the questions we’ve been asking for so long.”

Families of soldiers who died while serving in the British Army at Deepcut. (Johnny Green/PA)
Families of soldiers who died while serving in the British Army at Deepcut. (Johnny Green/PA)

Sgt Gavaghan is among almost 150 witnesses due to give evidence in person and writing at the inquest due to start in January.

He may also call his own character witnesses, the hearing was told.

Pte Benton, from Hastings, East Sussex, was found with five bullets in his chest in June 1995, shortly after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army.

He was the first of four young soldiers to die of gunshot wounds at the Surrey barracks between 1995 and 2002.

His family has campaigned for years for a full investigation into his death amid allegations he suffered prolonged physical and psychological bullying.

A Royal Military Police investigation led to an initial inquest finding of suicide in 1995, even though no evidence was given about his experiences at Deepcut.

Ms Lewis and Sean’s twin brother Tony Benton, represented by Liberty, applied for a second inquest in July 2015 which was granted last year.

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